Baltimore author, entrepreneur and military veteran Wes Moore is a man on a quest.
It's a long and arduous journey, full of false starts and unforeseen pitfalls. It's also the kind of quest that only an idealist undertakes.
Moore is convinced that meaning comes from living a life dedicated to serving a larger purpose. In his second book, "The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters," Moore recounts step by step his efforts to find a calling to which he can dedicate his energies and intellect.
At 36, Moore already has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. He overcame a childhood growing up in tough neighborhoods in the Bronx and Baltimore to become a Rhodes scholar. He worked in banking on Wall Street. He led combat troops in Afghanistan, helped craft foreign aid policy for the State Department and now hosts a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
And his first book, "The Other Wes Moore," about the very different fates that befell two inner-city youths with the same name and similar backgrounds, is being made into a movie that Winfrey will produce. One Wes Moore is serving a life sentence in prison; the other is the author.
And yet, Moore is restless. He has more to give, and he feels that he hasn't yet found a profession that will engage him fully and make use of his deepest talents.
"The Other Wes Moore" ended as the author was ready to leave for Oxford, full of promise but still unformed. Moore says he wrote "The Work" in part as a response to questions he received from readers about the shape his life took as an adult. The book is divided into seven tutorials — the lesson of the soldier, the lesson of the public servant, the lesson of the risk-taker and so on. They're interspersed with interviews that Moore conducts with other leaders whose lives exemplify those particular themes.
The book is thus part autobiography and part self-help manual, and simultaneously neither of those things.
Though the autobiography relates in detail Moore's intellectual journey, it is reticent about the events of his daily life. For instance, the courtship of the woman who became Moore's wife is dispensed with in a few phrases. The chapter about his service in Afghanistan doesn't describe particular missions. Instead, Moore describes how his thinking evolved regarding the role that the United States plays on the world stage.
And though the book is all about personal improvement and identifies key life lessons that Moore learned, he doesn't pretend to be putting together a blueprint for others to follow. He knows that his experience is so one-of-a-kind that it can't be replicated.
There are times when the book is so intensely focused that it falls a little flat. What's missing is the sense of a human being who presumably occasionally feels angry or disappointed or even a little lost. If Moore ever received an order from a commanding officer with which he disagreed or met a person he disliked, we'll never know it from this book. Every man and woman he encounters is described in glowing terms.
Moore is very driven, very grateful for the opportunities that he's been given, very determined not to cut himself any slack and possibly very concerned about burning bridges. The problem is that this carefulness can come across as disingenuous. Readers won't fully trust an author who appears to be holding back.
The strength of both his books is their ambition and their fearlessness. Moore rushes forth headlong and tackles the big, impossible, crucial questions about why things are the way they are.
Perhaps posing some of the questions that we should all be asking is the author's genuine calling, his true profession. Moore always has something thoughtful and interesting to add to the conversation.
Maybe that's more than enough.
About the book
"The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters" was published Jan. 13 by Spiegel & Grau. 272 pages, $25.
If you go
Author Wes Moore will discuss his new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St. Free. Call 410-396-5430 or go to prattlibrary.org.